Is comparing the mind to a computer too simplistic?

Probably a bit...but there are some useful analogies we can use by comparing the two that are effective in understanding how the mind works.


The search bar

So, just imagine if we are feeling anxious, depressed, lonely, fearful, or with low esteem or confidence issues. We type any of these words into the search bar. What do we get? Well, over a million results returned all about the problem, how it feels, how many people struggle with it, etc. and we read it and it makes us feel even more emotional or upset. We feel fed up and give up trying to help ourselves perhaps. We may even diagnose ourselves with a few other disorders during the process as well which will add to the upset, we are feeling.

However, if we switch things around and search for the solutions, by typing in things that we want to experience such as happy, excited, confident, strong, stable, calm, and in control, guess what? We have millions of websites and images that portray all of these things and enjoy looking at them. We feel hopeful, a little excited maybe that things can change, we may even have some ideas of things that we’d forgotten about that have made us happy in the past. There may be activity ideas, good books to read, films to watch, and songs to listen to.

Our minds too can work a little like this, if we keep focusing on the problem, it becomes bigger, and more noticeable. We are vigilant to the things that prove this is the case. Have a read-up on confirmation bias! Whereas, when we start searching for solutions, our minds can work fantastically at finding new ways of doing things, perhaps trying something new, doing something we’ve always wanted to do, or perhaps things that we know already work for us well and amplifying their effects! Your mind will start to notice things that show you that you are changing and working towards your new preferred way of thinking, feeling, or doing.

Busy tabs section

Have you noticed that when we are working sometimes, or searching up things, or we have too many programmes open, etc, our device can get a little slow or sluggish? It’s as if the computer doesn’t know which bit you want to focus your attention on, so it just keeps whirring away with everything in the background and becomes overloaded!

Our minds too can be like this. Yes, we can shift our attention between multiple tasks, but doing this on a regular basis 24/7 isn’t always helpful. We may not complete any one thing well if our attention is flicking between one thing and another. Sometimes we just have to allow our minds to slow down a little, to have a rest, or to daydream a little even perhaps.

Some of the greatest ideas have been formed by those lightbulb moments, when we allow our minds to idle and drift a bit and then ‘ping!’ creativity happens! Often this occurs when we are doing something that doesn’t require our full attention (I often have these moments when walking the dog when I suddenly remember something, or have a new idea.) People often have them in the shower, or whilst doing the washing up gazing out of the window.

Hypnosis utilises this nice state of daydreaming or trance, so that our minds are focused and at their most creative,  solving problems, thinking of new ways of doing things etc. We can almost view things in a slightly dissociated way, away from the normal thoughts, feelings and emotions that can steer us in a less helpful direction.

The critical error 

This is when our body and mind just need to force us to stop! This may be thinking, doing, working, etc. It’s when we need to go into repair mode. Most of the time this is forced upon us as we didn’t even realise that we’ve got to that state of overload.

This can manifest itself physically in the body with illness, or psychologically through things such as anxiety, anger or depression. It’s no coincidence that sometimes people get ill on their first day of annual leave, when they allow things to slow down a bit. Perhaps they didn’t even realise how much they needed a holiday until they actually took one and they come back feeling calmer, more in control, and focused.

Taking time to slow down a little and include some downtime in our daily lives means that we are less likely to reach the point of being frazzled, and needing ‘recovery’ time.

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Sometimes we can feel a little lost, that we are stuck in a rut, that we’ve lost our purpose and motivation for life, perhaps that we are not following our true path, or that we simply don’t feel ourselves. Taking time to reflect, to plan, to recognise what strengths and resources we already have, what we would like to include in our daily lives, what has worked for us previously and made us feel good, and a bit of positive goal setting, can help us to rediscover what we are about and how we’d like our future to be. We often do this in our working lives, but not so much in our personal lives. 

The home screen

When you open up your laptop and you have a huge number of shortcuts and icons, it can sometimes be hard to see the wonderful picture that you have set as your background because all of these other icons are in the way. We can’t really see what we’d like as there is simply too much going on! Many of these programmes we don’t need on a daily basis, and we can always take the time to use the search function if we want to use them. It’s a bit like having a cluttered room in your house, where it all just feels a bit busy, and disorganised and seems a bit overwhelming.

If we take time to focus on the ones that we really want and need to see immediately and delete the others, we can start to see the wonderful image behind them. The image that we have chosen for ourselves that we enjoy! It may be loved ones, it may be the standard windows of beautiful beaches and landscapes that can set our imagination reeling with how it would feel to be there or visit that place. It may be your business logo that you proudly created, that reminds you of how far you’ve come in your business since your training days which gives you a sense of achievement. Again, like this screen, our mind needs a positive focus, if we are spinning too many plates, it’s hard to focus on any one thing, and to really recognise what is important to us.


Information is stored on computers in blocks, that are stored in sequence from one part of your hard drive to another. Sometimes these blocks can get split, and the computer has to work harder to get the information from multiple places, which slows it down. So how does that relate to the mind? Wel, during trance our minds go into a wonderful state of processing, not unlike the REM state, where your prefrontal cortex – the really powerful problem-solving and creative part of the mind- really lights up. Your mind can start processing the things its needs to, creating new connections, and putting things into order in just the way that we want it to.

If perhaps it is confidence or self-esteem that you are working on, it can gather all of that information, focusing on all of the skills and resources that we already have in this area, amplifying them, pulling all of that information together, and adding new bits of information that we’d like to include in the future (our future self as we’d like to be). The mind can set up a new, easy-to-access template of information that is there and ready to go!

If we keep doing the same thing, we get the same results that may not always be helpful for us. In fact there is that famous quote attributed to Einstein “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Sometimes, very small subtle positive changes can have amazing results, it doesn’t always have to be a whole lifestyle/thinking/personality change!

So, in answer to my original question, no, we are not computers. We are wonderful, unique, individual human beings - but yes, there are some direct analogies that we can use to help us understand things a little better, almost like a user manual for the mind. It’s a powerful machine!

If you'd like to find out more about how hypnotherapy can help you, reach out to me via my profile. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Hypnotherapy Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Taunton TA1 & Burnham On Sea TA8
Written by Elise De Viell, BSc Psychology (hons.) AHD, HPD, DHP, MNCH, AfSFH
Taunton TA1 & Burnham On Sea TA8

Elise has been practicing as a Hypnotherapist in Somerset since 2012, and works from 3 busy clinics in Taunton, Bridgwater and Burnham-on-Sea.
She has achieved advanced level qualifications in hypnotherapy (level 5), as well as a degree in psychology which gives clients reassurance of her capabilities to support them with life's challenges.

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